Welcome to the Backcountry
Monday, July 30, 2018
Today, I’m not an early riser. I have no job to do, no commute to fight, no homework or bills to pay.
At home there’s a mailbox. Inside it perhaps are envelopes… pressing business that won’t receive attention for at least two weeks from now. In my backpack is a cellphone with airplane mode switched on. I imagine there are messages funneling in from someone, these beacons I cannot see.
The first few days on a trail, my mind tends to struggle, playing tug of war with my desire to relax, and the tension of my mental grip. As the world begins to quiet, my mind begins to fight, attempting to fill the silence between my footsteps.
And here I am with my busy mind this morning. I open my eyes and ignore its chatter.
I lay under our tarp, under a cool shaded canopy of fir trees. Our tarps are hitched together to form an orange and blue square, with a crease down the middle, dimpled on the edges with the support of two trekking poles. An ant crawls through the pine needles by my head. I wonder if he’s used to hikers camping here.
It’s Time to Rise and Hike
I cannot see them, but I can hear them. Boots upon the trail. The voices of the boyscouts pass and fade into the distance of the trail. And then just a trickle. The sound of water over the creek bed on a journey of it’s own. We’re just passing in different directions. The water rushing down toward the valley below. And I, on my way up, further into the trees. Further into the mountains, further from society, technology. Closer to the trail, closer to myself.
Rachel lays asleep. I turn onto my side, and pull my backpack from where it sits on the ground above my head. I pull out my phone.
Somehow we’ve been under these tarps for what appears to be 12 hours. I don’t want to get up, yet I’m tired of laying here. My back feels sore, and my heart restored so I reach for my shoes and crawl from our shallow shelter.
I fetch our bear canisters, pull out our cook set and begin to warm the water. Rachel begins to stir and I hand her a cup of English breakfast tea. For me, gunpowder green.
We then pour ourselves some Paleo granola with sesame seeds, pecans and coconut milk. And just like that, our bellies are primed for the climb ahead. We sip tea and pack our bags, as the light through the trees begins to show, the heat ever so slowly rising. We strap our lives onto our backs and set out upon the trail.
On Our Way To Granite Basin
Our next high point lacks a name that I’m aware of. But it’s a ridge line that sits just north of Mt. Hutchings, and beyond upper tent meadow. At 10,000 ft, the ridge line sits about 2,500 ft above us. From there we will descend into Granite Basin, rise to Granite Pass, and hopefully camp near Dougherty Meadow.
We march forward and emerge from the trees that shielded our campsite. The pine needle carpet gives way to pebbles, and rocky soil, a smattering of arid bushes and dry earth. The trees now spaced further apart making room for sun rays to split the shade. I can feel yesterday’s sweat upon my skin as today’s sunshine hits my back.
My mind flickers with anxiety. Again, it’s followed me here, out into the middle of nowhere. It often does. It’s quite obsessed. My little monster stalks me from behind, then leaps when I’m most relaxed.
What am I missing? Is there someone trying to reach me? Did I forget to pay a bill? Is my family okay? Toby, my 16 lbs chiweenie friend, I hope he’s doing okay.
The chatter of my mind fills the gaps of silence. Eventually I know, it will tire of itself. I let it plat it’s game, and shift my attention to the scenery.
The trail carries us further distances, carved into a hillside, parting a field of grass. Flowers appear like fireworks keeping my attention busy, as my quads contract, pushing me further from the cities in my head.
At 500 more we pass the cubscout leader, then pass a corner. Backpacks adorn the trail. The cubscouts sit atop their packs, snacking, drinking water. They pull their gear to the side and allow us to walk by.
Today’s been much easier. The climbs been stiff and continual but the heat is bearable. The smoke of yesterday is nowhere to be seen. The air is clean. A stream along the way provides us with encouragement. I soak my hat and shirt then cringe as they touch my skin.
Up. Just a little more. I can see the summit approaching. I can see the curving of the hillside, and the skyline behind.
And, suddenly we emerge. Before us is the backcountry. Through a window on a mountain, the world before us appears.
I feel like I see everything.
A View into the Back Country
We arrived at our first 10,000 ft summit. There will be more in the days to come. It’s Rachel’s first view into the high sierras. She stops to absorb the splendor. It brings me joy to see her reaction.
We toss our bags atop the boulders and gasp at what we’ve found.
Before us are peaks and valleys. Granite slabs and cedar, valleys and vistas to stand on in future days. So much still to find. Somewhere out there we will walk and we will sleep, ever pushing deeper into the Sierras. From here, we will only get further from civilization.
We relax and enjoy our view.
It’s quiet. And it feels good. We gasp and chew dried mango. It sticks between my teeth, and we move to find some shade as we nibble on mixed nuts. My anxieties melt away.
We must relax for about an hour, unwilling to budge from the beauty. I could stay here forever, but we have miles still to go.
With bags fixed to our packs, we descend into a valley, the landscape endless granite. My mind turns completely silent and awakens in Granite Basin.
Rocks surround us like a fortress, with emerald meadow islands. A stream flows like an artery, filling pools below the granite. I eye a crack in a wall and fantasize what it would be like to climb here. I imagine skipping over rocks, like a child playing hot lava.
“Rachel, maybe we should have brought our climbing shoes” I think within my head.
The landscape then opens around us, as we walk into a meadow. The air begins to cool and we hear thunder in the distance.
“Typical Sierra weather” I think. It sounds like it’s behind us. Rachel and I turn around acknowledging our pursuer. These afternoon thunderstorms are common in the Sierras, so our concerns are not too high. In fact, we welcome the cool air it brings.
The terrain begins to level, and we increase our hiking pace, as the thunder softly follows.
Rain begins to splatter until we decide to stop and put on ponchos. And, the ground begins to rumble, a sound rapidly approaches. Thunder? We stand still near a stream to listen closer.
Then hooves announce their owners as they echo off the granite. Pack horses arise from upon the hill behind us, and we stand aside to let them pass.
Rachel’s orange poncho shifts upon her shoulders, and the little horse at the end jumps and hustles by. We smile at each other, and give impressions in silly voices, of what we assume he must be thinking.
We snack at the stream in our ponchos, then continue on the trail, emboldened by the rain. We’re deep into the woods. We’re nowhere near the trail head. Our ponchos keep us dry, and our motion keeps us warm. We feel alive, and happy to be here together.
As raindrops bead and bounce off our ponchos, a Beatles song plays in my head.
“Two of us wearing raincoats, standing solo, in the sun… you and me burning matches, lifting latches, on our way back home. We’re on our way home… we’re on our way home.”
The lyrics link together out of order, then repeat in my head over the next few miles.
Eventually the raindrops decrease in size, and steam up off our clothes. We pull our ponchos from our backs, and stuff the into our packs.
Filled with satisfaction we begin to climb up Granite pass, with our eyes scanning for a campsite. Tonight we want a view. We find a ridge that faces west and explore the dirt for a spot to pitch our tarps. Then we find it. A flat and open area, solid as a rock, with logs to sit and cook.
Rachel fires up the camp stove, as I find a rock to hammer stakes. I cuss under my breath as a pound into rock, then shift and do it again. Eventually, god willing, our little home stands erected, just in time for dinner.
The air begins to cool, as we reach for primaloft, and the sun ignites the mountains into brilliant orange. We watch and sip hot chocolate, then sink into our bivies.